Envy, Relationships, and Advancement

Chasing the Wind  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  29:53
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Good morning everyone, and if you are joining us online good morning as well! Today we are once again continuing in our series on Ecclesiastes, a book that a lot of us probably have ignored more than other books of the bible. But, we do that because it is a hard book to read. It can be depressing so we have a tendency to shy away from it. However, we read it and study it because all of the Bible has authority to teach and correct us and so we need to know and understand Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes itself is a very applicable book, especially for the time in which we live. A lot of people struggle with the same things that the Preacher, Solomon, struggled with all these years ago.

Read Ecclesiastes 4


Let’s pray together and ask God to teach us this morning as we read Ecclesiastes 4.


One thing that all of us do is make comparisons of some kind. If I were to ask what farm equipment is the best, we could probably have a lively discussion on what makes one better than the other. One is more expensive, but it is made better, one has more options to it… We do the same things with movies and entertainment. Why should I watch this show over that one? Well, let me compare them and explain it to you. When you are in the grocery store and you need bread you might pick up two different brands and try to look at them and compare which one would be better for you, maybe which one will taste better because of the type of bread it is. Whatever it is, we all make comparisons in some way or another.


Solomon is no different than us. In chapter 4, Solomon makes comparisons in three different areas of life. He looked around at life and using wisdom was able to determine which things were better in life to have and pursue. As we walk through chapter 4, we are going to see three comparisons that Solomon makes. First, Solomon is going to tell us that being content is better than striving for more, second, he’s going to tell us that it is better to have a teachable heart than one that is unable to accept correction, and the last one is that it is better to work together, to have others with you, than to go through life by yourself.

Live with Contentment / Ecclesiastes 4:1-6

Ecclesiastes 4:1–6 NIV
1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter. 2 And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. 3 But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. 4 And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 5 Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. 6 Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.
Solomon begins this section with some really hard verses for us to read. Verses 1-3 are difficult. Solomon once again is looking at everything under the sun (Remember that under the sun is how Solomon says apart from God) so Solomon is looking at life as though there is no God, no eternal life. Solomon looks at the oppression that happens in the world, he sees their pain and how they have no comforter and he thinks “Okay, if this is all there is, then it is better to be dead, in fact it is better to not even be born because of the evil that exists in a world without God. This thinking then prompts him to look at the world and try to see what is better for one to do. There is evil in the world, so what should we do and how should we live in the midst of it?
This is what leads us to the first comparison of the passage. Solomon spends the next three verses talking about work. Now, he has already said that work is a gift from God and that one of the best things we can do is enjoy our work. Enjoy what you do. But, like everything else in the world, God’s blessings can be distorted because of sin. Even though enjoying work is a blessing from God, we can take work and twist it into something sinful and harmful to us. One of the ways that we do that is because of envy. All of us are constantly looking at what our neighbors have, what our family and friends have, and think, “We want what they have.” We want that kind of house, we want those vehicles, we want to be able to travel and go on these kinds of vacations. And so what do we do? We work more. Days off? Who needs those? If I want these things in life I have to work 7 days a week, 12 or more hours a day. Things aren’t just handed to me so I have to work my butt off to get what I want. So much of our reasoning behind acting this way is because of the envy that we have for other people and their stuff. One author wrote that economists often identify the competitive urge of self-interest as the engine that drives a capitalist economy. Don’t we see this in our world and our culture? Just this last week Apple held their conference or whatever they call it where they show off the new products that they are going to be putting out in the next year. So many people will wait in line or constantly refresh their internet browser in the hopes of being able to get these new tech gadgets, even though they already have a phone or ipad that works just fine! We do this to ourselves because we don’t want to be that person who doesn’t have what our friends have. Now, envy is not the only reason that we work, but Solomon still has a point, one of the biggest reasons we work so hard is to get what our neighbor has. We envy what others have and will almost do whatever it takes to get it for ourselves.
Then in verse 5, Solomon compares the person who works all the time out of envy to the person who does nothing. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the person who refuses to work at all. “Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves.” You can reach this point where you just don’t want to work. You want everything given to you, you know you won’t get everything you want so you just figure why work at all? And just like the person who works constantly, the person who does nothing ruins themselves.
We all have to find which one of these we are more prone to, which one presents a greater temptation for us. Some people like to brag that they don’t work hard at their job or with whatever they do. Others like to brag that they put in 70 hours of work and are “grinding” to get the things they want.
But the preacher gives us a better alternative. “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” Tranquility is contrasted against striving. The quiet person is peaceful and composed and rather than wanting more and more, he or she is content with what they already have.
“The person with two hands full is a two-fisted consumer, always grabbing as much as he can and always grasping for more. But sometimes less is more, and the quiet person has found the right balance. His hands are not folded, like the fool. He is working hard enough to have a decent handful of what he needs in life. But that is enough for him. He does not keep demanding more and more, but accepts what God has given.”
Where are you at in this comparison then? Have you learned to be content? This is the better way that Solomon is wanting us to see. Enjoy your work, but be content with what you have. Find your satisfaction is God and God alone and we can begin to live a life that is truly content.
A story I came across this week talked about a young girl who misquoted Psalm 23. Rather than saying “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” She said, “The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.” Most of us want so many things in life that we find it difficult to say that and be content.
For our second comparison, we are actually going to jump to verses 13-16 before going back to the heart of the passage.

Lead with a Teachable Heart / Ecclesiastes 4:13-16

Ecclesiastes 4:13–16 NIV
13 Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. 14 The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. 15 I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. 16 There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Solomon here compares two different kinds of people. A poor but wise young person compared to an old foolish king. Now, both of them, not matter who is king, eventually are forgotten and lose their following as verse 16 says. Even though the young person might become king, eventually the people will not like him. So no matter what, chasing fame in any ways is meaningless. It might work for a period of time, but eventually people will move on to someone else. But, I want us to focus on the comparison of this young man compared to the old king. Verse 13 tells us that the old king, “no longer knows how to heed a warning.” Here we see the difference in their attitude towards advice. As the king got older he begins to think that he has all of the answers, he knows how everything should be ran and refuses to listen to anyone who offers advice different than what he thinks. This comparison serves as a warning to many of us. We often think that as you get older you gain wisdom, and often you do, but whether you are young or old, the wisest person will listen to advice. I think we are in a new stage of life where so many of us don’t want to listen to advice. We have all made up our mind on certain things, we’ve made up our minds on how to handle different situations and we become like this old king who thinks he knows everything. Not only do we do this in just everyday life kind of things, we often take this mindset when it comes to our faith. An important thing to have as a follower of Jesus is a teachable heart. A heart that knows you don’t know everything (Is that confusing?) and is willing to continue to learn and grow in Jesus.
Going back to the middle of the passage, we see Solomon compare what it is like being alone against having others to help you in life.

Work with Others / Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

Ecclesiastes 4:7–12 NIV
7 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: 8 There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless— a miserable business! 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Solomon uses this illustration of a man who is all alone and he works and works in life but finally asks himself, “Why am I doing this? Why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” As Solomon looks at a man like that, he sees that it once again is meaningless. There is no end to the man’s work, day after day he is toiling, trying to gain more wealth but never finding satisfaction. But no matter what he gained ultimately the man had no one to share it with. He was working so hard he was unable to make friends, unable to start a family.
Verses 9-12 are often read at weddings, but they don’t just apply to a marriage relationship. In life, it is better to work together, to share life with one another, than to try to make it on our own. I don’t know about you, but I have seen more and more that our culture values and pushes us to “make it for yourself.” You don’t need anyone else, you’re all you need, go out and do it. That mindset is the exact one Solomon is warning us about here. You don’t have to do life by yourself! Life is better when you have others to share it with and help you. Since the beginning of creation we were never designed to go at life alone. We have always been designed to live in community with one another. Genesis 2:18
Genesis 2:18 NIV
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
We are meant to have a kind of buddy system throughout life. Togetherness is better than loneliness. Solomon even gives us four reasons why living with one another, helping one another, is better than trying to go through life by yourself. When you work with others, you have a good return for your labor.
Illustration: Working with Brandon as Jones’ weeding mums and working with others detasseling.
If you fall down and can’t get up, someone else can help you, if you are facing cold two people can lie down and help keep each other warm. And if someone tries to harm you, you are better defended if you have a friend with you.
It is important that no matter what stage of life you are in, you have community around you. That is why it is important to be a part of a local church as well. You can watch a sermon online, you can listen to a podcast and receive teaching from great pastors (Chances are it is better than mine!) but you don’t get community in those scenarios. Community is important if we want to build each other up, encourage one another, and disciple one another. This also means that it is important for you to have friends. We need those who we can reach out to, who we can go to when life goes bad and will help us.


As you look at these comparisons, do you see the wisdom that Solomon offers? It is better for us to be content with what we have than strive to have our neighbors possessions. It is better to have a teachable heart than an arrogant one. And it is better to go through life together, with friends and community. This is Godly wisdom that Solomon reveals to us. This is advice that is worth considering and implementing in our lives.


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